being a teacher, college, education

What I Didn’t Learn in College

I was an adult student, attending college in all of my seriousness, so eager to learn everything there was to know on how to be a teacher. I wanted to be good, great even, and I studied, and I planned, and I reflected my little heart out. And then I graduated, got my first teaching job and realized that I had very little idea of what it meant to really be a teacher.

So what I didn’t learn in college is really quite a lot. I didn’t learn how to gain my students’ trust, interest or even attention. Instead I learned systems of control, of management, of planning that would force students to listen. I didn’t learn how to teach a child that consistently gets 5 hours of sleep every night because of parent job situation and therefore puts his head down on his desk every day. I learned that that child better pay attention to me because that is what children are spposed to do.

I didn’t learn how to care about my students, this was meant to be a given, and not taken for granted. I didn’t learn how to strip away all the layers and show the true meaning of the lessons being taught. I didn’t learn to adapt at the start of a tantrum or the twist of an interesting conversation. I didn’t learn to love them all, no matter their roughness or demeanor.

I didn’t learn to change myself, to be humble, and to realize that this journey is not about my teaching but the students’ learning. I didn’t learn that there are at least five different ways to explain something, or in my case, at least twenty, because every student explains it their own perfect way. I didn’t learn that often the simplest idea, lesson, or decision can make for the most meaningful moments.

I didn’t learn how to be great, or even how to be good. I learned how to save paper, be efficient, and to plan, plan, and plan some more. I learned how to find sources, and ask for help, but not who to ask it of. I learned how to plan for the fictitious child with special needs, the unplannable, or even the out there. And so there are many things I didn’t learn in college but I am not so sure you can. Teaching has to be experienced to be learned, not just read about, discussed and debated.

A great teacher is not something you are just taught to be in college, pushed to be through test scores, or coached to become through observations, it is something you become through your experience, reflection, and everyday life. I wish, I had been taught that in college.

being a teacher, college, Lesson Planning, lessons learned, new teacher, questions, students

Veering Off the Chosen Lesson Path – or Why You Should Take a New Route

As college students when taught the craft of becoming a teacher, one thing is hammered into us again and again; the necessity of lesson plans. We are given graphic organizers to ensure that we account for every single possible thing; special needs, types of learing, beginning, goal, standards and on and on. I slaved over my mine, creating perfect fictitious classrooms that would need my supposed expertise to reach the goal.   It would always be me as the fierce director bringing students into learning, the keeper of the flame.

As a first year teacher, I continued my meticulous planning, always knowing the end goal and more importantly the exact path that I would take to go there.  Students were forced down my chute of learning so that they could reach their glorious destination, often not having time to take a different direction, a different approach.  I had curriculum to get through and by golly I would!

And then I realized what I was really doing.  By glossing over student questions, by forcing my path on the students, I was losing them.  I was losing their inquisitiveness, their creativity, their sense of learning style and most sadly, I was losing their trust in me as a teacher.  Why would they open up when I barely ever slowed down to listen to them?  It wasn’t that I wasn’t a decent teacher, I was, but that was it, decent.  No room for individuality, no room for new discoveries, just here is the goal, let’s reach it.

Learning is always happening in any classroom you walk into.  But notice the different types of learning.  Is there room for student exploration?  For veering off the path?  For taking a totally different route altogether?  How stringent is the teacher with their lesson plan, is it followed minutely or used as a guide for the ultimate goal?  How loud are the students?  How engaged?  I was once asked by my principal what my goal for a particularly disastrous lesson plan was and I couldn’t tell him, what I could tell him was the path I was going to take.  What a wake up call that was – thanks Mr. Rykal -know your goal, think of a path but then don’t be afraid to go another route, to listen to the students,  let them shape the learning.  I promise, you will see the difference in excitement, in caring, and in learning.  Do you dare to take anther route?

being a teacher, college, education reform, preparation

A Teaching Degree Does Not Make a Teacher

I wasn’t taught how to be a teacher.  I took all of the teaching classes sure, and my diploma says that I have a teaching degree but being a teacher isn’t something you can be taught in today’s university.  All of the educational classes on reading, math,  and science provided me with background knowledge and a dabble in what it might be like as a teacher.  Lesson plans were written with fictitious students hand-selected by our imagination.  I liked to keep things harder so I always had a student with less attention or limited English proficiency, you know just to spice things up.  And amazingly every one one of those lesson plans was a hit with my professors.  My fictitious students ran home to their parents and heralded me as the best teacher ever.  And yet inside, I knew I was not ready to teach.

I walked the stage at graduation already with a long-term sub position I had gotten at my school.  I had been inducted into that job through on the job training and yet the entire time I just swam to stay afloat.  I was not a teacher then either.  I got my own classroom and on that first day I looked at those students and knew that I had not been prepared for this.  It wasn’t that I didn’t feel prepared; my education degree had not equipped me with the tools I needed to be a teacher.  So when we discuss education reform today and we throw around harsh lines about the quality of teachers, I think we need to refocus and aim our glances at the universities and colleges preparing the next generation of teachers.  How are they reforming to create capable teachers? 

No amount of papers, lesson plans, or discussion can truly prepare you to to the amazing and exhausting job of teaching so why is it we hide our future teachers in college classrooms rather than set them free in schools? To be a teacher, we need to be in the classrooms because that is where we learn how to be effective, reflective and creative.  This is where we face the true audience, the true measure of whether students have learned or not.  So disband teacher educations, or at the very least the last two years and replace it with on the job training with a certified experienced teacher.  Imagine the benefit for not just the wannabe teacher but also those students that get the luxury of having two adults in the room.  If there are bad teachers out there, or ineffective as the new term goes, then we must look at how those teachers were prepared.  Until our teaching education is changed, real reform will not be accomplished.